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Five projects to engage digital learners


While there's lots of conversations around about engaging today's digital learners, the solution isn't simply to use technology. I don't think anyone will agree that playing Cow Clicker is the best use of our limited classroom time.

With the pressure of today's classrooms, students use of technology needs to help them progress towards a specific learning goal (content or process), as well as require them to apply what they know to create something new or solve a problem.

Engage Digital LearnersSo what kinds of work can students do that meets content and process learning goals? Most importantly they need to be CREATEing and making, not just consuming. Here are 5 of my favorite ideas.

1. Develop a Public Service Announcement

Students today aren't lazy, they are as idealistic and passionate about issues that affect them. Climate change, privacy rights and freedoms, health and safety,the list goes on. If you don't agree, maybe you aren't listening.

A PSA is designed to get people to change their behavior, how much more real world can persuasive writing be? Use PSAs to help students explore content issues in depth as well as practice writing and communication skills.

Created in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.

2. Create a book trailer

Students in our classes don't want to use technology with the end result of simply filling out a digital worksheet. Yes, that boring book report isn't any better just because we published with technology. But what kid nowadays goes to the movies without seeing, or looking up, one of the trailers about it? Movie trailers are fast-paced and exciting. They have just a few minutes to share details about a story that will connect the viewer to it.

Created in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.

When making a book trailer, not only do students have to know the characters, settings, and events in a story, they have to consider them in light of what someone else might find interesting. To make a great trailer, they may actually have to read the book, not just read about it online.

3. Make your own TV Show

Students today spend more time watching TV each year than they spend in school. While they may not be watching high-quality educational shows, they have most likely seen great storytelling, watched a news broadcast that affected their mood, and see a video biography on a person who interested them, even if it was about an entertainer.

Ask today's digital natives to take their existing knowledge and media literacy to craft unique responses to content they are studying. The better the question you use to frame their work, the better their response will be.

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Created in Frames. Find more videos like this on Connect.

4. Help someone else learn

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the flipped classroom, but consider asking students to create videos that teach others by demonstrating a process or explaining a rule. We all know when you teach something, you learn it better. You also have to think of many different ways to approach and share information so that others can understand it. This multi-faceted approach also helps the "teacher" cement the concept in the brain.

Created in Pixie. Find more videos like this on Connect.

"When I notice someone having a grammar problem, I refer them to a student-created tutorial designed by one of their peers... and when one of my students shows mastery of a concept, I know it’s time for them to create one of their own!” shares Katy Hammack, a teacher in Santee, California.

5. Tell a story

Yes, just tell a story, any story. When students write their own stories, they have a chance to apply everything they have learned about grammar, voice, organization, and audience. A polished digital storytelling product may be a great way to hook learners, but we all know the real learning happens during the process. Producing a digital story requires planning, writing, editing, composing, considering, analyzing, articulating... the list goes on.

Created in Pixie. Find more videos like this on Connect.
The next time you are at a party or family event bored to tears by the long story seemingly without end or point, you can rest assured you are helping to save numerous people from this horrible fate.

The best projects

The best projects aren't the ones targeted to meeting a specific or narrow standard, but ones that move students toward mastery of many different skills.

Project-Based Learning - What age is best?


I had the pleasure this week of working with Jamie Wittig from Cielo Vista Charter Elementary school to explore how project-based learning might look in a Kindergarten classroom. While I have been leading ProjectLearn Academies which focus on implementing project-based learning with technology for over ten years, each workshop is unique because discussions during the process about how to address a particular subject/topic, grade level, culture, or site needs.

As I was preparing for this workshop, I was scouring my files for not only great examples of project-based learning done with a primary grade tool like Pixie, but also great examples of what authentic tasks, essential questions, and big ideas looked like at the Kindergarten level. I found that most of my examples focused on upper elementary and secondary.

This got me thinking: Which age is the best for project-based learning?

Students at a high school level have thinking skills that are capable of complex, ill-structured problems and I find that they often come up with the best questions when they are being the most contrary. If an authentic task should tackle something in the "real" world, these students are also closest to it. Some are ready to graduate, some already take care of the rest of their families, some even have almost full-time jobs. As educators, we also assume these students are more capable of managing a project, deadlines, teams, and complexity.

Students at a middle school level tend to be highly idealistic. If provided with a great authentic task, many of them simply can resist the hook and go above and beyond time and effort expectations to really prove they have reached adulthood. These students are growing cognitively, but often aren't asked to really apply their skills and show off their expertise.

In many elementary classrooms, one teacher is responsible for teaching multiple subjects or at least participate on a team that works together. This makes scheduling the extra time and overlapping disciplines easier.  Because students aren't segmented into different classes for each subject they are often more easily able to think across disciplines as well. Elementary students also love to play and this leads to increased willingness to try new things and take risks.

But what about primary students? Can we expect kids to think at a high-level to solve real world problems? As I was looking through my notes, I definitely found that the best projects still centered-around or related to things that students knew (leaders=principals, heroes=family members).

But then when I really started thinking about it, while we do build academic foundations in Kindergarten, so much of what we also cover are life skills - how to wait in line, how to take care of myself and my property, how to treat others, what I can expect from others, and that I should expect different things from different people depending on what I know about their jobs, etc. The "soft skills" (a misnomer in my mind) that are taught along with academic skills during the pbl process).

Book CoverI am reminded of the great book by Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (excerpt).

And no matter what age you are implementing project-based learning or which you think is the best age, remember, "it is best to hold hands and stick together."

Enjoy your PBL journey!

Back to School - First Technology Projects for your 21st Century Classroom


You may already be back to school or just beginning to get your classroom and plan for 2011 in order. If you are like most technology-using educators, you probably have a few tried and true first technology projects that you return to year after year. You know, the projects that are light on content and fairly light on technology skills so that you can get students started out on the right foot and begin to learn their abilities communicating with various technology tools.

As I was working on the Making Claymation in the Classroom eBook, I was reminded of a fun first Frames project (claymation rock videos!) that helps to teach the claymation process.

Claymations can get complicated and messy, so getting a handle on the process before working with new and heavy content is important. Rather than developing an extensive script and storyboard, a rock video claymation engages students by actually asking them to share their current interests and requires them only to make a single character (or work together to make a band).

Students need only to capture 8-12 photos and then can repeat them to create movement throughout an entire song. Students can get more or less elaborate with characters, pictures, and movements, but putting it all together is quite simple. Working in small groups makes the process even easier and also saves you time when it comes to showing them all off!

Name and initial sound projectBut you may not have access to the time and resources it takes to do a complete animated video. If you are working with younger students or new technology users a more basic project is perhaps the best. You can always fall back on the nearly universal "All About Me" project. Pixie even includes a couple of different templates for this to make the project almost run it self.

An All About Me project can also be used to introduce students to one another (and don't forget to do one of your own to also set expectations as well as let them know who you are!). 

First projects can include content learning as well, but remember successful learning with technology requires balance. If there are a lot of technology skills to learn (how do I launch Pixie?, what is my computer login?, where do I save? what printer do I use?), keep the content light or something that is previously known.

For primary students, you could have them create and print a table tent with their name and picture. To add a content dimension, have students find stickers or clip art with initial sounds that match each letter of their name. You will need to give them time to explore your clip art resources (helpful for future projects) and you can talk to students working to help them brainstorm and listen to their existing initial sounds proficiency.

Remember to save and store work that students complete. If students have taken the time to draw a self-portrait, have them export the page or file as an image to use in other programs. You might also want to use this as a baseline for skills as the year progresses and have them create new images as they grow and change.

These are just a few ideas of my favorite jump-start projects. What are yours? Please share you ideas! 

My last two weeks as an intern for Tech4Learning.


As August comes to an end so does my internship here at Tech4Learning. My month here has flown by and as I sit back and relfect I realize how much I've grown and learned.

More was expected of me these last two weeks. Besides my usual translating, I was asked to exercise my writting skills by writing marketing material for the new Spanish resources available for Pixie. Both exciting and intimidating at the same time, I wrote a press release, newsletter content, and even web page conten.  Surely the clever sayings and phrases I came up with would pale in comparion to what the professionals at Tech4Learning could come up with. Yet, my material was recieved well. I was even called articulate. Reassuring considering I've spent my last two years at school studying media writing, communcations, public relations writing, etc. (Actually retaing what I've learned, big win!) Seeing my material actually published on the Tech4Learning webpage gave me confidence for my future.

Just being in the office has allowed me to learn so much more about marketing. Sitting in the office and meetings I  heard and learned about so many methods and terminologies used in this market. I was most impressed by the marketing research and how much thought and planning goes into it.

However, the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of establishing a connection with the customer. So much time and effort is put into serving the customers here. Whether its sending out newsletters with the latest resources or personally walking a customer through upgrading  software over the phone, Tech4Learning cares about its customer nurturing. Its hard not to think about the customer here. I even found myself thinking about them when I was translating. What word would make more sense, would they like the new Spanish resources I was creating, will they know how to use the new language tools?

So as I draw my thoughts to a conclusion, I think about how valued I felt here. I think about my future and where I will apply the skills learned her. I am pleased to say you might see more of my writing come winter break. But for now I am happy with the work I have done and everything I have helped Tech4Learning accomplish. I'm ready to get back to my school books and be the student once again.

Project-Based Learning - Setting Expectations


checklistAs we set out to do project work, it is important to very specifically clarify our expectations for student work – both in the form of the final product, as well as behavior during the process. Here are some specific questions to make sure you answer as you begin project work with your students.

  1. What are we doing/making?
  2. Why are we doing this?
  3. What tools and resources can we use?
  4. How will we be assessed?

1.   What are we doing/making?

Start by giving students a clear idea of the scope of the project.  Share the authentic task you have set for them to help them understand what content you will be discussing in the upcoming weeks and why it is important to learn this information. Give the students a project timeline as you explain the steps in the process and clarify how long student will be working on each step.

While the learning happens during the process of project-building, students are often excited by the product they will be making, especially if it is a product created with technology. Show your students examples of high-quality work to clarify product expectations and prompt new ideas.

2.   Why are we doing this?

Students often ask, “Why do we have to do this?” because we haven’t made them active participants in the discussions about learning goals. In many cases, we as educators can’t even answer this question, all we know is that we have a big scope and sequence binder that says we have to COVER this information this week!

But project work is about uncovering information and exploring big ideas. What are the big ideas behind the project? What do you want them to learn? Why are they doing this work? Share your project goals, in terms of both content and process and provide the students with the essential questions that this work is intended to help them better answer.

3.     What tools and resources can we use?

Let the students know what type of products they can create to meet the project goals. Will they be making a poster, a multimedia production, a public service announcement or can they choose from a variety of product options? Showcase the tools you can provide to help them complete the project.

As students become more advanced in planning, executing, and managing a project, let them help you determine the ways they can demonstrate their understanding!

4.   How will we be assessed?

Provide students will a clear idea of how their final product, as well as work during the process, will be assessed. Are you scoring just the final product? Will and outside consultant or professional be evaluating their work?

You may want to use a rubric or checklist to help them better understand your expectations for their work during the project. If your students are ready, work together to develop the project assessment. This encourages self-directed learning, provide more ownership in the process, and establishes goals set by both parties.

Don’t forget to clearly articulate what great work looks like during the process. What “soft skills” are you going to be looking at or for? Teamwork? Leadership? Organization? Time management? It is important to let students know what behavior is expected during team project work. Over time this will become natural, but it is always helpful to articulate expectations. For example:

  • Listen.
  • Try new things.
  • Communicate in a free and polite way.
  • Be a Learner.
  • Become an expert.
  • Follow US Copyright law and Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia.

There are lots of right ways to start off a project, but be sure that no matter what you do, you paint a clear picture for students of your expectations for their work on the product and during the process!

Excellent Free Tools and Resources for Teaching


With gas prices soaring to nearly $4 a gallon I couldn’t help but think of everyone’s shared concern of spending money and looking for new ways to save dollars and seek out valuable resources-- especially when it come to education.  Fortunately Tech4Learning has provided excellent free online teacher and student resources to motivate your students while integrating technolgy easily into your curriculum.

When working in group projects, creating a video, or gathering information for a presentation, these free tools make learning a breeze:

Creative Educator
Creative Educator focuses on using technology tools to foster creativity and engage students in the curriculum.  CE features articles on project-based learning, creativity, classroom management, The end of each issue also includes lesson plans that provide ideas, resources, and directions that make implementing technology even easier. Subscribe

Creative Educator

Pics4Learning is a copyright-friendly image library for teachers and students. Pics4Learning includes lots of great photographs of animals,  countries, backgrounds, and more, that students can use in presentations, blogs, and web sites.

Ask questions, raise issues, share the fabulous projects your students are building, and celebrate student learning in this online community. Join the conversation and watch inspirational videos to give you classroom ideas.

Recipes4Success is a comprehensive set of online resources designed to help infuse technology into your curriculum. Recipes4Success supports technology integration, providing tutorials and just-in-time references for common classroom software titles.

I hope these convenient resources will benefit you while you continue to manage your education dollars and enhance your 21st century classroom.

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